Sanctuary: How an Inner-City Church Spilled onto a Sidewalk

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A magisterial and masterful addition to the tradition of South African narrative non-fiction, Christa Kuljian's Sanctuary offers a welcome woman's voice in a genre distinguished by Jonny Steinberg, Antony Altbeker and Anton Harber. After years of sporadic media attention and posturing by politicians, Kuljian has made it her business to find out exactly what has been going on at the Central Methodist Church in downtown Johannesburg, where the Church acts as a gateway to the city - an Ellis Island for South Africa, the place where many migrants first go to get their bearings. How did a place of worship turn into a shelter for thousands of refugees? Where did they come from? Why are they still there? Seeking to answer such questions, Kuljian fluently combines many elements: interviews with members of the refugee community and residents of the Church, and key figures like Bishop Paul Verryn, who has often been at the centre of the storm; historical material on the church and its role in the city since the early years; and an understanding of urban dynamics, migrancy, and South African and southern African politics. The result is a complex, open-eyed book that grapples with some of South Africa's most urgent social problems as they are refracted through one appalling, frustrating, inspiring place.